A year after inauguration, Biden faces a more critical and pessimistic public

Americans’ confidence in President Biden’s leadership has waned over his first year in office as more people feel the country is headed in the wrong direction.

January 20, 2022

Confidence in President Joe Biden’s ability to effectively manage the White House has declined during his first year in office. Half of Americans don’t think of Biden as a strong leader or someone who understands their needs and problems. Nonetheless, most Americans think both Biden and Vice President Harris have either exceeded or met expectations. About 4 in 10 say they haven’t met expectations.

Democrats are largely positive in their assessments of Biden, and they do not lack confidence in Biden’s governing ability.  However, they are not as strongly confident as they were last year.  Across most measures, Republicans remain negative about Biden.

On the anniversary of his inauguration, Biden faces an increasingly critical and pessimistic American public. Most Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. 

Throughout much of his first year in office, more people approved of Biden’s job performance than disapproved. But that shifted in September and now 44% approve of how he is handling his job and 55% disapprove.  Still, Biden’s approval rating is better than his predecessor after about a year.  In February 2018, just 35% of Americans approved of former President Trump. The latest poll also shows that 47% have a favorable opinion of Biden, compared to 34% who currently hold a favorable opinion of Trump. 

As with the Obama and Trump administrations, presidential approval is a sharply partisan issue.  In January 2021, soon after his inauguration, 97% of Democrats approved of Biden’s job performance and 77% of Republicans disapproved. In the latest survey, 76% of Democrats approve and 90% of Republicans disapprove. 

Assessments of Biden’s ability to handle various problems facing the nation have also taken a hit in recent months, in particular his management of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last spring and early summer, more than two-thirds of the public approved of how Biden was dealing with the pandemic. As of last month, his handling of the coronavirus remained the only issue with more than 50% approval. Now, as the pandemic enters its third year with the omicron variant surging across the country, Biden’s approval rating for handling the pandemic has dropped to 45%. 

Since the president first took office, the public has lost some confidence in his ability to manage the White House, government spending, and the military, work effectively with Congressional Republicans, or take advantage of his advisors and experts in making decisions. 

While only 20% had high hopes for Biden’s ability to deal with Republicans in Congress a year ago, half as many have confidence in his skill at negotiating across the aisle now.  And only 30% have a great deal of confidence in Biden’s ability to deal with Congressional members of his own party.

Twenty-six percent are very confident that Biden will promote the United States’ standing in the world and 23% are very confident that he will be able to guide the country through the pandemic.

In June 2018, 22% said they had a great deal of confidence in Trump’s ability to effectively manage the White House and 18% had a great deal of confidence in his ability to incorporate the advice of his advisors and experts into his decision making.  

In October 2020, before the presidential election, 44% said Biden would unite the country and 35% expected Biden to make it more divided.  At that time, 63% expected Trump’s re-election would increase the country’s divisions.

After a year of Biden’s presidency, only 16% say he has made the country more united, and 43% think he has added to the country’s divisions.  Another 42% think the country is neither more united nor more divided.

Twenty-six percent of Americans say things in the country are headed in the right direction, down from 49% when Biden first took office a year ago.

Most of the public think the country and their families are either better off now compared to when Biden first became president or say there has been no change, though those assessments are highly related to people’s political affiliations.

At the end of the Trump administration in January 2021, 31% said the country was better since Trump became president and 52% said the country was worse off. Again, there were partisan differences:  56% of Republicans said the country was better off and 78% of Democrats said it was worse off.  

While assessments of Biden’s character are not glowing, ratings of Trump’s honesty and discipline were more negative in the fall of 2017 and in later polling. The percentages calling him a strong leader were similar to Biden’s.

Twenty-four percent of the public, including 44% of Democrats but only 6% of Republicans, think Biden understands their needs and problems very well. 

Most Democrats say the job performance of Biden and Harris is about what they expected, while about two-thirds of Republicans describe their job performance as worse than anticipated. 

More than three-quarters of Democrats are confident that Biden “has the mental capability to serve effectively as president” or “is healthy enough to serve effectively as president.” However, 8 in 10 Republicans do not have much or any confidence in either his physical health or mental capacity.

As of now, only 29% of Americans want Biden to run for president again in 2024, including just 48% of Democrats. Twenty-seven percent of Americans would like to Trump run for president in 2024, including 56% of Republicans.  

The nationwide poll was conducted January 13-18, 2022 using the AmeriSpeak® Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,161 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.9 percentage points.

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